How many pants did I just buy?

Words can be haunting. They appear every- where and cause the mind to wander and wonder.

Yesterday I bought either a pair of pants or two pairs of pants. I thought it was the latter but the tag suggested the former.

A tag on the back pocket read: “The most comfortable pant ever.”

I have always referred to the single garment as a “pair of pants.” However, once a tweed-wearing salesman at an upscale men’s store in Durham, N.C., told me he had a nice “pant” to go with the sports coat (also called “sportcoat”) I was buying. But it/they (the pant or pants) was/were more expensive than three pant/pants I could get at T.J. Maxx. So I passed.

A little research revealed that the word “pants” is derived from “pantaloons” — popular undergarments of the 1800s that were also called “breeches.” (Like, “You’re too big for your breeches.”)

Such items were typically made as two separate pieces and then joined in the middle. (Think cowboy chaps.)

As a result, certain items of clothing — though singular garments now — were identified as plural terms. Examples include a pair of tights, a pair of shorts and a pair of underpants.

Clothing manufacturers and marketers occasionally use the term “pant” now — although most of us think of gasp-like breathing when we see or hear that word.

So I have some level of resolution in that my own language preference has been verified by history. Therefore, I bought two pairs of pants yesterday.

Yet according to the label, the apparel company believes that I bought one pant and yet another. Lee Jeans has been around since the late 19th century when they started making dungarees. (One of those, I guess, should be called a “dungaree.”)

Even more confusing, Lee claims that in 1920 the company made the first “overall.” Yet I always called it a “pair of overalls.”

Such confusing use of language has worn out my inquiring mind. It just makes me pant.

1 Comment

  1. John,

    There is an old English Bible which is called the "breeches Bible" because it translates as "breeches" the aprons which Adam and Eve made out of fig leafs. That is apt to make us think of a pair of "britches", but the reality is that a "breech" is an apron and if Adam and Eve both had a fig leaf apron then it could be correctly said that they made "breeches." The reason we call a it a "pair" of breeches is because there is one apron for each leg.

    Also, when Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah (otherwise known as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego), were cast into the burning fiery furnance, it says (in the King James Version) they were dressed in "hosen." That is the plural of "hose" – again, one hose for each leg.

    Apparently this was the same thing we call pants or breeches. But I wouldn't suggest you go around telling people you bought two new pairs of hose.

    Mark Osgatharp
    Wynne, Arkansas

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